If you weren't worried before about college football in the fall, you should be now
I want college football to happen in 2020. You want college football to happen in 2020.
Before you tell me I’m trying to “cancel” college football, understand that the sport helps me keep a roof over my family’s head. I’m not alone in that. Those 14 Saturdays we get in the fall are sacred. I realize what I’m about to say will make some of you say “you just don’t want to work.” As I’ve said countless times since all of this went down, we in sports media are not kids sitting at home keeping our fingers crossed for a snow day. There are layoffs happening everywhere because of COVID-19, and this industry is part of that.
So now that we have that out of the way, hear this — I have more doubts than ever about there being a college football season this fall. At least not near the timeline we were hoping for.
Why? After the College Football Playoff Management Committee was on a call with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby shared this important detail from that conversation:
“Our players are students,” Bowlsby said. “If we’re not in college, we’re not having contests. Our message was, we need to get universities and colleges back open, that we were education-based programs, and we weren’t going to have sports until we had something closer to normal college going on.”
Let’s repeat that.
“If we’re not in college, we’re not having contests.”
In other words, say goodbye to any hope of watching LSU and Texas face off in an empty stadium. This isn’t pro sports, which reportedly have been in talks to start seasons without fans this summer. No students, no sports. The desire to maintain amateurism is at the root of that.
Sorry, Mike Gundy. Just because these are “18, 19, 20 and 21 and 22-year old healthy kids with the ability to fight this virus off who can be sequestered because we need money running through the state of Oklahoma,” (his words, not mine) it appears that a pandemic is taking priority over blurring the lines of amateurism.
Let’s be honest. Those have been blurred more than ever in this decade of booming TV contracts. Those contracts are now completely up in the air if the “empty stadium games” cannot happen.
In a perfect world for fans, greed would win out. The NCAA would kick $5,000 to each student-athlete and we’d have sports played on campuses — potentially with empty stadiums — regardless of if students are on campus or not. Watching football from home is better than no football, right? And for schools, they’d still get that TV revenue check and theoretically find a way to recoup the in-stadium revenue loss.
But apparently there’s even some resistance to that:
One additional point of concern an AD acknowledged about the prospect of games with no fans: that some fans may become less inclined to come back, thinking the experience of watching from their couch of games in HD is much cheaper, more time-efficient and may seem more practical.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) April 15, 2020
I could spend an entire column breaking down that quote, but instead, I’ll limit it to 1 sentence.
Does that AD seriously not think people are aware of the in-home viewing experience? Did he just get out of a time capsule?
Sorry, that was 2 sentences.
The more troubling thought about all of this is that we’ve already seen campuses shift completely to online classes through the summer semester, which goes into August at certain places. There’s no more room to move anything back without it dipping into the start of the season.
Are we going to be in a place in a few months in which tens of thousands of people will be allowed to gather in a public place? I don’t know the answer to that question. All I know is at this time a month ago, I wouldn’t have really thought about seriously breaking down that question as it relates to the college football season.
What the conversation with Pence should remind everyone is that there’s a distinct difference in the logistics between having amateur athletes play a sport and having a local business open up. This is about optics. University officials aren’t willing to go against CDC guidelines to have student-athletes on campus while others cannot be so that they can cash 8-figure checks. It’s not as simple as saying “we need this sport to boost the economy, so let’s pretend this isn’t college athletics.”
And in case you were wondering, these decisions will be made well before August:
University of South Carolina president Bob Caslen tells board of trustees committee that he is hoping school will be able to make decisions about operations for fall semester on or about May 15, but no later than June 15.
— Steve Berkowitz (@ByBerkowitz) April 15, 2020
So where does that leave us? What’s realistic if there’s no further blurring of the amateurism line?
We still don’t know, and we won’t for a bit. There are only guesses at this point because this situation is fluid.
If I had to guess — which is all it is — I’d say don’t bet on college football starting at the end of August. It’s been well-documented that even if students are allowed back on campus in the first week of August, multiple coaches have expressed the need for at least a month (or more) of practice. As many have said, they were robbed a full spring camp, as well.
I still come back to the belief that conference commissioners and athletic directors are going to do whatever they can within the current guidelines to have a season. Power 5 universities are too financially dependent on that revenue for that not to happen. But could that be in January instead of August? While it’s not ideal in many ways, waiting an extra 4 months sounds far better than no season at all.
At this point, my guess — which is all it is — for a best-case scenario is for a late start to the season. Maybe that’s mid-September or the start of October. That would consist of getting students back on campus in August. That’s the only scenario in which we could have something close to the fall that we’re used to.
My fingers are crossed for that, but I’d be lying if I said that Wednesday’s developments didn’t make me a bit uneasy. They definitely did.
I’m officially worried about those 14 fall Saturdays, and it’s understandable if you are, too.